Why Blue-Chip Art Collecting Is Vital to the Plot of Christopher Nolan’s Time-Bending New Film, ‘Tenet’

The estranged wife of the film's villain is an art advisor who tasks the film's protagonist with robbing her former lover.

Jack Cutmore-Scott, left, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in a freeport housing valuable works of art in Tenet (2020). Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures.

Blockbuster film director Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated science-fiction spy thriller, Tenet, finally hit US theaters on September 3, bringing audiences a high-brow tale of time-bending espionage.

And somewhat surprisingly, the movie features a subplot involving blue-chip art collecting.

That’s because as Katherine “Kat” Barton (Elizabeth Debicki), the estranged wife of the film’s villain, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), is an art advisor. To win her trust, the unnamed protagonist, played by John David Washington, and his handler, Neil (Robert Pattinson), have to steal a forged painting for her from Sator’s freeport vault in Oslo.

The filmmakers actually used the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn, Estonia, to shoot some scenes for the film. (A museum rep told Artnet News that the institution was prohibited from sharing any details about the filming experience.) For the rest of the shoot, Nolan built a set inside a Tallinn warehouse.

Tenet was originally slated to open July 17, but had its release pushed back due to nationwide movie theater closures in the US. Nolan spent five years on the screenplay for the expected blockbuster, which could be seen as a followup to the hit 2010 film Inception, a convoluted sci-fi action film exploring dreams and the unconscious.

Tenet took in $20 million domestically over the holiday weekend, having previously debuted overseas and in Canada with a $53.6 million take over its first weekend.

Stateside, box-office expectations were tempered by the fact that movie theaters remain closed in the industry hubs of New York and Los Angeles. It remains to be seen how and whether a movie-starved public, robbed of the year’s crop of summer blockbusters, will return to theaters that now have increased safety protocols in place.

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